Mets 2019 All-Star Jeff McNeil may or may not realize it yet, but he is destined to become a victim of the team and MLB rules.
The Mets have, give or take, one of the top fifty offensive players in the game. Jeff McNeil is a hitting machine reminiscent of Rod Carew and Pete Rose. He wakes up in the morning spewing base-hits all over the field.
McNeil came so very close to challenging for the NL Batting Title last season but fell short when an injury cut him down in the final weeks of the campaign.
Gutty, brimming with determination, Jeff McNeil is one of the smaller engines driving the Mets.
But he has one problem, and it’s something he can’t control no matter how hard he tries.
Jeff McNeil is 27 years old. On April 8, 2020, McNeil will turn 28. As a late-blooming star, the Mets fell into him when they drafted him in the 12th round of the 2013 amateur draft.
It took McNeil five years to reach the majors in 2018, which by itself is not unusual. Except again for his age when he began his quest (21). In other words, McNeil was not your typical 18-year old coming out of high school.
You’ll see McNeil’s problem quickly in the table below:
Mets: Why they won’t be trading McNeil anytime soon
Despite rumors and reports to the contrary, the Mets know a good thing when they see it, and they will not be trading Jeff McNeil anytime soon.
As the table indicates, the Mets have complete control of McNeil until 2025. As with all players, he’ll have three years of arbitration starting in two years.
McNeil’s salary this year and next year is totally in the hands of the Mets. It’s likely the team will reward McNeil for the season he had in 2019, but the raise will be nowhere near what it would be in arbitration. The same is true for the 2021 season.
Typically, players grind through those arbitration years, almost always bettering their salary year to year.
But the main attraction is when they become a free agent, where the real chance to cash in finally arrives.
Jeff McNeil: A Baseball Story
Now, here’s the kicker for Jeff McNeil. If he plays the 2020 season at age 28, he will reach free agency at the age of 33 – two years beyond what is generally considered to be a player’s “prime” (26-31).
Unlike Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso, for instance, the Mets have zero motivation to offer McNeil a contract extension with guaranteed money for the next five or six years. Why would they?
Meanwhile, of course, McNeil will be out there busting his butt because that’s the kind of player he is, hitting .300, making the All-Star team, and so on.
It’s only a question of bad luck
Before anyone gets weepy about the plight of Jeff McNeil, though, let’s recall that he did earn $600,000 (major league minimum) last season, and he’ll get some sort of a raise for this season.
This puts McNeil in the top 1% of earners in the United States for 2019. Not a bad place to be, right?
At the same time, applying the same free agency rules to a player like McNeil, whose career began at age 27, is not fair. The point is registered in this table:
Each of these players is between the ages of 30-32, and each has signed contracts for money Jeff McNeil will never see when he enters the market at 33.
The Mets will do what they’re going to do with Jeff McNeil because they can – and because it makes absolute good business sense.
A matter for the Players Association
But the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is another matter.
There should be some relief from the six-year wait from free-agency for a player who comes into the league at an “older” age.
What age? I don’t know – that’s part of the negotiation process with the owners.
There is already a growing trend in baseball in which 18-26-year-olds are being granted more playing time than 30-somethings.
More playing equals more opportunities which equal bigger numbers – which equals Money.
Jeff McNeil is caught in a trap. He’ll be fine and better than most of us. But compared to his peers, it’s not beyond reproach to say – he’s getting royally screwed.
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